Biography Gregory Corso

Gregory Corso

photo of Gregory Corso
  • Time Period1930 - 2001
  • PlaceNew York
  • CountryUnited States

Poet Biography

Born Nunzio Corso at St. Vincent's hospital, (later called the Poets' hospital after Dylan Thomas died there), Corso later selected the name "Gregory" as a confirmation name. Within the Italian community he was "Nunzio", while he dealt with others as "Gregory". He often would use "Nunzio" as a short for "Annunziato", the announcing angel Gabriel, hence a poet.

Corso’s mother, Michelina Corso (née Colonna) was born in Miglianico, Abbruzzo, Italy, and emigrated to the United States at the age of nine, with her mother and four other sisters. At 16, she married Sam Corso, a first generation Italian American, and gave birth to Nunzio Corso the same year. They lived at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, the heart of Greenwich Village and upper Little Italy.

In April 1930, a month after he was born, Corso's mother abandoned him, leaving him in New York. Corso’s father, Gary "Fortunato" Corso, consistently told his son that his mother had returned to Italy and deserted the family. He was also told that she was a prostitute and was "disgraziata" (disgraced) and forced into Italian exile.

Corso spent the next 11 years in foster care at least five different homes. His father declined to visit him. Corso went to Christian parochial schools, was an altar boy and a gifted student. In order to avoid the military draft, his father brought Gregory home in 1941. His father was nevertheless drafted.

Corso became a child on the streets of Little Italy. For warmth, he slept in subways in the winter, and then slept on rooftops during the summer. He continued to attend Catholic school, not telling authorities he was living on the street. With "permission", he stole breakfast bread from Vesuvio Bakery, in Little Italy. Street food stall merchants would give him food in exchange for errands.

In later years, Corso disliked public appearances and became irritated with his own "Beat" celebrity. He did however agree to allow filmmaker Gustave Reininger to make a cinema verite documentary, "Corso - the Last Beat", about him.

After Allen Ginsberg's death, Corso decided to go "on the road" to Europe and retrace "the Beats" early days in Paris, Italy and Greece. While in Venice, Corso expressed on film his lifelong concerns about not having a mother, and living such an uprooted childhood. Corso became curious about where in Italy his mother, Michellina Colonna, might be buried. His father's family had always told him that his mother had returned to Italy, a disgraced woman. Filmmaker Gustave Reininger quietly launched a search for Corso's mother's Italian burial place. In an astonishing turn of events, Reininger found Corso's mother Michelina not dead, but alive; and not in Italy, but in Trenton, New Jersey. Corso was united with his mother on film. He discovered that his mother at 17 had been almost fatally brutalized (all her front teeth punched out) and was sexually abused by her teenage husband, his father. At the height of the Depression, with no trade or job, Michellina explained the she had no choice but to give her son to Catholic Charities. After she had established a new life working in a restaurant in New Jersey, his mother had attempted to find him, to no avail. The father had blocked even Catholic Charities from disclosing the boy’s whereabouts. Living modestly, she lacked the means to hire a lawyer to find her son. Eventually she remarried and started a new family.

Corso and his mother quickly developed a relationship which lasted until his death, which preceded hers.